16 May 2007

You taste of potato chips in the morning

It took a good long while for my mind to get over the image of Rufus Wainwright in lederhosen (monogrammed lederhosen, no less), but eventually I was able to give my freshly bought copy of his latest album Release the Stars a listen.

The opening track, “Do I Disappoint You” is Rufus at his most operatic. The song builds, swells, and explodes in a dramatic frenzy of action, complete with a tormented chorus of women wailing in the background. After hearing this song, I assumed that the whole album was going to be more of the same, and I wasn’t thinking of that as a bad thing.

Which is why track two, the albums first single “Going to a Town” is such a shock. Where “Do I Disappoint You” screams, “Going to a Town” whispers softly. Where the former is clear, the latter is subtle, from a frenzy of instruments to a pared back arrangement. To be sure, there are still touches of opera lingering about “Going to a Town,” in the tortured cry of ‘tell me!’ that swells around his words, but on the whole it is a much more refrained piece.

From here the album moves onto two more softer tracks, “Tiergarten” and “Nobody’s of the Hook.” The latter has become one of my early favorites, with a beautiful string arrangement and lyrics that, in my opinion, are some of his best.

I was beginning to feel concern at this point. After the slightly hysterical action of the opening track, the album had so far been of the slow and dreamy variety. Which is all well and good, but I had maybe hoped for something more. And then…. As “Nobody’s Off The Hook” drifts to an end…

“Oh boy,” mutters Rufus. “Oh my god!” Cries a female voice. A familier tune begins to build and, heart in mouth, I realise that it’s….

“Between My Legs!” Live versions of this song have long been loved by fans, and here finally was the studio version of this rollicking, tongue in cheek number. (About, according to Rufus, his attempts to coax a man to his bed with the story that his house had a tunnel to the sea, which would come in handy if the world ever came to an end…) I know a lot of folks feel it doesn’t live up to the live versions, but I don’t agree. It may lack the raw power of the live takes, but this over the top, gloriously camp, imposable to not smile while listening to song has its charm. And lots of it. Indeed, if the personally of Mr. Wainwright was taken and turned into song, I imagine this is what it would sound like.

And from here we ease back into something a little more down key. “Rules and Regulations” is perhaps the most conventionally “poppy” song on the album, and in these early days of listening it is the only one that has failed to grab me in someway. Although I did smile to see the return of the wailing chorus. (“Not to mention the Gods!” They wail. Awesome stuff).

“Not Ready To Love,” the next track, is a lot like “Katonah,” the track Rufus contributed to the Plague Songs compilation a few months back. It has that slow, almost country twang to it. A very solid number, one that I am sure will grow on me over time.

Once again at this point I found my heart rate was settled and, while I was not growing bored, I was getting antsy once more for something a bit faster. “Slideshow,” at first, did not seem to be going to deliver that. A slow, almost acoustic beginning, it seemed like it was going to be a pretty standard balled. I should have known better than to thing I had Rufus all figured out. The chorus of this song is incredible. Incredible! It comes out of nowhere, rising from the acoustic beginning like a tidal wave in a perfectly calm ocean. It builds and crashes back down, only to build again almost instantly. Oh, it’s an amazing moment! And the lyrics! Ah, these lyrics are fantastic. Tongue in cheek, in that uniquely Rufus way. It is a song unlike any other song I have ever heard, and that is a marvelous thing. This is what Rufus himself has to say in regards to the song:

"That song is my most treasured caption right now," [Rufus] said. "I feel like it accomplishes what I set out to do a long time ago. There have been other songs, like 'Evil Angel', or 'Go or Go Ahead', similar works that were striving for what 'Slideshow' attained -- this rock 'n' roll explosion of thematic sensuality and sexual muscle. I finally accomplished it."

Nothing, I thought, could come close to the glory of “Slideshow.” Ha. You think I would have learned from the previous song not to doubt Rufus? I’ll learn one day. “Tulsa” was the next track to be warmly welcomed by my ears. A song which, if you believe the story, Rufus wrote about none other than The Killers’ Brandon Flowers. Well, I don’t know who it’s about, I just know that it’s awesome. The opera in Rufus’ soul returns here at full force. Crazy operatic strings that dance and spin, and Rufus’ voice rising and falling with perfect grace. This song sounds like it belongs in some high class opera house somewhere. Until, that is, you listen to the lyrics. Sexy, cynical, acidicly funny, and so very, very, Rufus. (“She waited for hours in the rain to meet me,” he sings. And then adds in a cheeky little voice, “not you baby!”) This song is everything I love about Rufus, from the music to the lyrics to the vocals. Oh, and I just love the reference to that other song we all know and love, "Gay Messiah."

What struck me most about the next song, “Leaving for Paris No. 2,” was not the lyrics or Rufus’ voice. It was the music. Spare at first, with these little complex touches that really grabbed me. This is a song that you think is going to build up to something, but never does. Which is not a bad thing, the pent up tension is delicious and creates an amazingly tense atmosphere. In a lot of ways the song reminded me of another well known number 2 song, “Chelsea Hotel #2,” although I can’t quite place why. This track leads nicely, very nicely, into the next song, “Sanssouci.” Another more conventional, poppy, track. Well, conventional for Rufus anyway.

And then, all too soon, it was time for the album to end, with the albums title track. “Release the Stars” starts out like some long lost Want One outtake. A pleasantly familiar, classic Rufus, kind of sound that I didn’t even realised I was missing until I heard it here. But it isn’t long before the track descends into the operatic glory that categorises most of this album, and while I was sad to see the Want One sound go, I was eager to hear what new things Rufus would show me with the song.

Which, I guess you could say, pretty much sums up this album right there.

Nobody's Off The Hook
(haven't fallen down in a while)

(and usually I am such a happy prince)


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